An estimated nearly 1 million trans people are eligible to vote in the 2020 general election. However, 42% of these voters do not have identification that matches their gender identity.
Trans people have been turned away from the polls when their presentation didn’t match the name and gender marker on their ID (such as a Vermont trans woman who was assumed to be committing fraud for appearing as a woman but showing an ID with a traditionally male name and a male gender marker at the polls).
In some cases, some trans people are given provisional ballots if their ID doesn’t match their appearance, except that such ballots are often not counted.
High Costs of Updating Documentation
Costs of Name and Gender Marker Change
A legal name change costs over $400 in Florida, and medical transition can already be expensive if the patient doesn’t have insurance, so changing one’s name can be a huge hurdle.
Updating gender markers in Florida simply requires a physician’s letter stating the patient is undergoing “appropriate measures for gender transition”, so SRS is no longer required. However all other southeast states except for South Carolina require proof of SRS (although South Carolina requires a court order to change sex), and Tennessee explicitly prohibits Gender Marker changes even after SRS under Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-3-203(d).
Even though getting a physician’s letter in Florida sounds easy enough, not everyone has adequate access to healthcare and furthermore there’s no real guideline for physicians to go off of for these letters. So some physicians will refuse to sign the letters if the patient doesn’t “pass” as their identified gender in that physician’s eyes, which is a totally subjective basis to go off of and can take X years on HRT, where X is whatever the physician determines is “appropriate measures for gender transition”.
Other Obstacles to Obtaining Identification
To make matters worse, since we’re more likely to suffer from homelessness, obtaining state ID can be a challenge to begin with, which can make voting a difficulty. Unfortunately, you need an address in order to obtain a state ID. But when our population keeps getting kicked out of our homes over who we are and continue to face employment and housing discrimination, that can make proving our residency impossible.
And to make worse matters worst, we can’t gain lawful employment in order to afford a residence without ID, but we can’t get that ID without having a residence that we can only afford with employment. It just goes to show that if the status quo can’t outright get rid of minority groups, then they’ll just Catch-22 us out of existence instead.
Let’s also not forget our transgender felons! Transgender people face policing discrimination, often due to appearing like they’re impersonating someone else since their presentation doesn’t match their ID, or because they’re assumed to be sex workers.
A transgender woman in Idaho was arrested and held in jail for eight days after trying to check into a hotel on her way to a funeral because her ID said “Male” and had a male name, but she was dressed as a woman. So naturally the hotel staff assumed she was a sex worker and called the police, who then arrested her purely based on that stereotype.
This is serious because already simply possessing condoms can be used as evidence for soliciting prostitution in at least 4 US cities, so imagine how it must be for trans women of color – who are already assumed to be sex workers simply for existing – who get profiled and stopped and frisked and condoms are found in their purse.
There are two reasons why I bring up transgender policing:
- Florida requires background checks as part of the name change process. And if someone happens to have a felony on their record – for any reason – then that could prevent or at least put a waiting period on their name change.
- Florida did recently move to allow felons to vote, however only after all their fines have been paid. Unfortunately, since trans people already face employment discrimination and having felonies doesn’t help that at all, that can make paying those fines difficult. – For help with paying these fines, you can reach out to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.
To reiterate, name changes are expensive and gender marker changes require access to care, making updating ID a timely and expensive process. If our presentation doesn’t match our ID then we can either be turned away from the polls or given a provisional ballot that likely won’t get counted.
Below is the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus’ guide to Voting While Trans in Florida:
In order to vote in Florida, you’re simply required to show a valid photo ID. While gender discrepancies are not a reason to deny you a ballot, it might not be a bad idea to carry a second form of identification if you happen to have one.
If you run into trouble, you can call:
- 1-833-Vote-FLA (1-833-868-3352)
- National Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683)
and a volunteer attorney will assist you.
O,Neill, Kathryn; Herman, Jody. The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters in the 2020 General Election. Williams Institute. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/trans-voter-id-impact/. Published April 8, 2020. Accessed October 1, 2020.
Moreau, J. Strict ID laws could disenfranchise 78,000 transgender voters, report says. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/strict-id-laws-could-disenfranchise-78-000-transgender-voters-report-n901696. Published August 17, 2018. Accessed October 1, 2020.
Vasilogambros, Matt. Provisional Ballots Protect Voting Rights — When They Are Counted. Pewtrusts.org. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/11/16/provisional-ballots-protect-voting-rights-when-they-are-counted. Published November 16, 2018. Accessed October 1, 2020.
Wiltz, Teresa. Without ID, Homeless Trapped in Vicious Cycle. Pewtrusts.org. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/05/15/without-id-homeless-trapped-in-vicious-cycle. Published May 15, 2017. Accessed October 1, 2020.
Kolodziej, Charles. THE IMPORTANCE OF TRANS-SENSITIVE POLICE POLICIES AND PRACTICES. The Policing Project. NYU School of Law. https://www.policingproject.org/news-main/2019/11/27/the-importance-of-trans-sensitive-police-policies. Published November 27, 2019. Accessed October 1, 2020.